From chugging cranberry juice to soaking tampons in yogurt, people have been treating common vaginal conditions at home since—well, forever. And while it's tempting to put regular health checks on hold during COVID and DIY a diagnosis, sometimes, cranberry juice won't cut it.
Sometimes, you need professional help. (Also, putting food in your vagina probably isn't the best idea—but we'll get to that later.)
So, when these five issues crop up, put down the yogurt, walk away from the cranberry juice, and seek professional help ASAP.
Spotting between periods is pretty typical for vagina-havers, especially if you're on the pill. However, spotting for more than a few days or bleeding heavily between periods could mean something is wrong.
Irregular bleeding can be a sign of a pelvic infection, cysts, fibroids, polyps, hormonal imbalances, endometriosis, a thyroid disorder, STI, or in rare cases, gynecological cancer. If left untreated, these conditions can escalate and even affect your reproductive health. If you're experiencing any of the above, it's a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider.
Cramps happen, but they shouldn't leave you feeling incapacitated. If period pain is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks, it could be a sign that something is wrong.
So, how do you know if your cramps are "normal?" Here are a few things to look out for:
"Normal" cramps are relatively easy to treat with over-the-counter pain meds like ibuprofen. They usually start at the beginning of your period and last for two to four days. If you're having intense cramps that linger and exceed your usual period pain, it's probably time to talk to a provider.
Never had cramps before? Period pain that starts suddenly later in life, or intensifies over time, can signify a benign tumor called a uterine fibroid. Sudden cramping or pelvic pain may also indicate infection, which, if left untreated, can damage the pelvic organs and lead to infertility.
Even if there's nothing unusual about your cramping, don't feel shy about talking to a provider. Most period pain is treatable, and there's no reason to put your life on hold during your period.
Regular discharge—clear, odorless stuff you see in your underwear—is normal and healthy. The vagina is self-cleaning (kind of like an oven), and vaginal discharge keeps it healthy by getting rid of dead cells and bacteria.
Slight changes in your vaginal discharge are no cause for alarm. What's more concerning is a sudden, strong odor or fishy smell, especially when accompanied by a change in discharge color, itchiness, pain, or irritation. These symptoms can signal infection—such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis—or STIs like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis.
Oh, and about those yeast infections. People often tout yogurt as a more natural way of treating them, but we don't recommend it. Bacteria and yeast thrive in warm, moist places, so the old "soaking a tampon in yogurt" trick could cause infection rather than fight it.
We know DIY options are temping during COVID, but—if you think you might have a yeast infection—we recommend getting it checked out by a doctor. You can even talk to one of our Women’s Health providers from the safety and comfort of your home.
Pain during sex is surprisingly common. Sometimes, it's caused by something situational, like lack of lubricant or an awkward position. However, painful sex may also be a sign that something's going on internally.
Pay attention to the kind of pain you're experiencing. A sudden, sharp pain could indicate a ruptured ovarian cyst, while deep pain can signal endometriosis. Burning, stinging, itching, or rawness around the vagina can be a symptom of a condition called vulvodynia, or chronic pain of the vulva. STIs or other infections can cause inflammation of the cervix, which also makes sex painful.
Regardless of its origin, don't hesitate to talk to a provider if you're experiencing pain during sex. Sex is supposed to be pleasurable, and you deserve to enjoy it.
Finding the right birth control can take some trial and error. If your current method is causing unwanted side effects or isn't the right fit for your lifestyle, our Women’s Health providers can talk you through your options. There's no reason to settle for a method that's making you miserable with so many different kinds of contraception out there. For example, if you constantly forget to take your pill, you might want to chat with your doc about a more permanent method, such as IUD or implant.